MIAMI — The Miami-Dade County School Board at its Aug. 15 meeting approved placing a $1.2 billion general obligation bond referendum before voters in the upcoming Nov. 6 election.
The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) approved the district’s request to issue the bond last week. The FLDOE’s review included validating projects’ needs, confirming the lack of available funding and reviewing the proposed bond financing plan.
School officials say the proposed bond issue will have minimal impact on the typical homeowner — a projected $10 in the first year — and that voters’ approval is essential as the district seeks a longterm solution to providing 21st century schools for all Miami-Dade students.
Approving the general obligation bond now makes sense, district officials say, because GOs issued in 1988 are being paid off, so homeowners will not experience a significant increase in taxes. The officials note that construction costs are significantly lower than their peak, interest rates are at historical lows and that timing the issuance of the GOs now is critical in order not to add costs to taxpayers.
Finding a solution to the district’s capital needs has been an ongoing priority for administrators and a recurring topic of concern for board members. Officials note that over the last seven years the district has made strides in building new and replacement schools to comply with the voter-approved state class-size mandate, delivering more than 105,000 new student seats.
Since recent capital funding has mostly gone to provide new schools or additions, the needs of older schools have not been addressed, the district says, with almost half of the school buildings more than 40 years old, more than a third more than 50 years old. Given the real estate market downturn of the last five years and the decrease in state financing compounding the capital-funding shortfall, it is impossible for the district to address the mounting needs of the aging schools and finance state-of-the-art technology for all schools, officials say, without a voter-approved solution.
Some Palm Beach County voters still have bad memories of their 1986 bond construction bond debacle in which some schools weren’t built and promised projects were not completed while the $678 million program voters approved ballooned to $1 billion. Top district officials were found to have accepted gifts such as fishing trips and even enjoyed a toga party with vendors with whom they were doing business. The district has since turned around its fortunes since that expensive lesson at the cost of students and taxpayers.
In Broward, which like most large urban school districts faces as similar situation as Miami-Dade, Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie has cited capital projects funding as a major need that soon will have to go to voters.
For now, Miami-Dade voters are the latest being empowered to determine whether the longterm needs of school facilities to benefit a new generation of students merit passage of a major capital referendum.
District officials, citing the transparency and confidence benefits of citizen advisory and oversight committees to ensure timely and equitable distribution of projects, and noting that Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho has guaranteed 100 percent local reinvestment of the funds, point to the additional benefits economic development and employment opportunities for the community.
Photo: Alberto Carvalho